Kevin DeYoung’s Hermeneutic

Some time has passed since answering DeYoung’s 40 questions. What my friends Keegan, Tapji, and I noticed was that one must accept DeYoung’s hermeneutical framework in order to answer his questions. Each of us, I am sure, felt a sense of emotional exhaustion due to accepting this hermeneutical framework. Likewise, I felt that the who point was that one would throw up their hands and just not do the 40 questions, and in that way, it would make DeYoung’s questions look unanswerable (and in my mind, that seems like a tactic of “look my questions have stumped those liberals!”). John Short offered an alternative 40 questions that get somewhat at some of my own questioning throughout answering the questions. But I just wanted to offer a reflection on answering those stupid 40 questions.

At this point it seems like a broken record, since I have asked this question continually but it is worth repeating, in that listening to a record repeatedly, for me, indicates an important message: conservative Christians focus so much on their queer antagonism being accepted as a legitimate part of Christian tradition, yet rarely speak out against other forms of queer antagonism. There is a significant disavowal on their part that their emphasis on “traditional marriage” (whatever this term really means) they do is marginalize a whole group of people. Yet rarely do they speak out against other forms of oppression against queer people.

Here, I think about the fact that queer people are more likely to be in poverty or homeless than their cisheterosexual counterparts. Moreover, there are more cases of drug abuse, and mental illness, which in my mind correlates with the ways in which society excludes and marginalizes people. Also insert issues like job discrimination, housing discrimination, or the fact that queer people of color still face police brutality. Or that queer immigrants face violence against the US state in detention centers, as Jannicet Gutierrez recently protested before President Obama. I cannot help but think about the racist and transphobic violence inflicted against CeCe McDonald, and that because she defended herself against this violence she still was deemed guilty by the judicial system. Transwomen continue to be murdered. Pastors will say that queer people need to caged up, and unsurprisingly conservative Christians either offer a tepid response or none at all.

These are all issues conservative Christians are often silent on. None of them deal with same-sex marriage. To be honest,  I care little about Same Sex Marriage because of all of the issues enumerate by Dean Spade and Craig Wilse. Nevertheless, it is difficult for me to accept conservative Christians who say their opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in Christian tradition alone (as if religious tradition is somehow exempt from producing bigotry or enforcing it). Why? Because they’re silent on all the other forms of oppression that queer people face on a daily basis. It is as if their opposition to same-sex marriage symbolizes their opposition of the moral goodness of queer life and culture.

What does not surprise me is that DeYoung asks if one will support Christians who will face bullying and the potential lack of religious freedom. This willfully ignores the violence faced by many queer people today. So it is not just that DeYoung has a rather myopic hermeneutic, but he is also a revisionist, ignoring the actual violence and oppression faced by queer people, as this huffington post article critiques about Christians “being oppressed.” Again, unsurprising because many conservative Christians frame their struggle as somehow akin to the struggles faced by minorities under Nazi Germany (again ignoring that LGBT people were among those persecuted and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, or even that Nazi ideology was buttressed by the anti-Jewish teachings found in Christianity).

Here is where DeYoung and I differ hermeneutically. The Haggadah plays a central role during Pesaḥ, recounting the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The exodus is central both to me personally, and functions as the national founding myth in Judaism (to the extent that Rashi wonders why the Torah begins with creation not the Exodus). The exodus plays a central role in my political imagination, and in my desire to see the liberation of various groups of people. For Christians, Jesus is the image of God’s character. For me as a Jew, it is through the liberation in Egypt and the desire for new ways of life. As Moses says, החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך “life and death I have set before you, a blessing and a curse and you will choose life so that you and your offspring may life” (Deut 30:19). Here, I take life not just to mean a physical way of life, but the way life is conceptualized, in the hopes that lives that are typically not valued will be valued, and advocating for a society that values the lives of those who are marginalized.

Lastly, I think our hermeneutic differs to the degree that Judaism has put more stock in historical experiences than Christianity. For many Christians, it always comes back to “doctrine.” Jews have overwhelming supported SSM, at least I believe, because of the lived experiences of oppression. This in part ties into the experience of exodus, but it also ties into the anti-semitism that Jews have faced in Europe and the United States. As Yitz Greenberg notes, “Judaism is a midrash on history.” Thus, lived experience plays a central role in how one practices Judaism, and lives faithfully to God.

I am sure that these interpretations do not adhere DeYoung’s hermeneutic, but then again, I find his interpretation of Scripture to be rather bland, simplistic, and lacking a depth of flavor like mayonnaise.


The Religious Right and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I always have strong feelings of apathy for this civil religious holiday. My main contention of the holiday is that it whitewashed King, removing all of his complexity as well as ignoring his radical social agenda. We stop at 1963, even though King was assassinated in 1968. It was clear once the Civil Rights Legislation was passed that King’s social agenda would become more radical. Moreover, even the speech that we hail as one of the greatest pieces of American rhetoric, is whitewashed: A speech that ends on a hopeful note, in fact, begins with harsh criticisms of America. We never hear these criticisms. This latter part is ignored by us, likely because we don’t want to hear someone condemning our racist society.

Does it really surprise me when Glen Beck bastardizes the thought and theology of King when many people within our country do the same? The answer is obviously no.

Nevertheless, I get annoyed when conservatives use Dr. King to promote their own conservative message. My frustration is that they are unaware of King’s history and thought. Beck, for instance, promotes colorblind politics, when King’s speech seems to show that color-blindness is the goal of his political agenda, not the means. In short, Beck fundamentally misinterprets King. Now the Illinois Family Institute says that the Civil Rights envisioned by King doesn’t extend to queers. My contention is that their use of King is sloppy. Their goal is to appropriate an important figure in American history for their specific agenda.

The Illinois Family Institute is likely made up of people who heavily support the Republican Party, and at least unintentionally supports  their neoconservative view of militarism. King opposed the war in Vietnam, rather staunchly. In fact, he was one of the few civil rights leaders to do so. King opposed the war in specific relation to poverty within our nation. He saw it as appalling that a nation would spend thousands on a war when there were thousands in our nation that were suffering from poverty. King thought that money spent on war would be better spent on America’s poor. It also meant creating an economic bill of rights. In fact, King’s goal was for a radical reconstruction of our civil society. These are things that the Republican Party ignores. These are the things that the Illinois Family Institute ignores, especially how the family, as an institution, is extremely unstable in the face of poverty.

Lewis Baldwin is a central figure in understanding King. This year, I took a course on King and the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement. Baldwin’s book, There is a Balm in Gilead was one of our central texts for the course. Baldwin notes that central to King was culture of life. While pro-lifers might swoon at this suggestion, Baldwin is clear that King’s vision of a culture of life was much more expansive. King’s culture of life was one that promoted a culture of openness and enlargement: a culture where differences were not simply tolerated but respected and celebrated. Moreover, this was part of King’s goal of radical democracy: the prophetic expansion of rights and the human community.

None of this proves that King would have supported LGBT rights. We do not know how King felt about homosexuality. We could argue vis-à-vis the thought of Coretta Scott King for King’s support of queer movements. At the same time, I would like to contend that the thought of Martin and Coretta need not be the same. Martin’s thought is distinct from hers. He never talked publicly about homosexuality. In fact, the few times where King dealt with homosexuality were in situations where King handled the situation in a homophobic way. Specifically, I am thinking of the 1960 Democratic convention. Sen. Adam Clayton Powell told King that he would accuse both King and Bayard Rustin (a key figure in the Civil Rights movement and openly gay) of a homosexual love affair if they did not stop the march on the Democratic convention. King cancelled the march and let Rustin go from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Contextually, King’s thought might not specifically refer to homosexuals. King displayed homophobia. At the same time Baldwin has argued that King promoted a culture of openness and enlargement as well as a culture of radical democracy must include things such as LGBT Rights. That is, even though King did not refer to homosexuality in his thought, his thought is meant to be a framework. King’s thought is meant to be expanded.

If anything, Baldwin’s scholarship on King supports the notion that King might have criticized the contemporary Religious Right for their narrow vision. This is not to say that King would necessarily support the Religious Left either. Persons on the Left can be just as racist and homophobic/heterosexist as the Religious Right. Nevertheless, what I mean to say here is that the Religious Right needs to stop using King if they merely hijack him for their specific religious agenda. Clearly the rhetoric of the dominant (and I say dominant because I do not think we should generalize the Tea Party) Tea Party is contra to a culture of openness and enlargement and radical democracy, especially when we think about the political climate of Arizona (both in terms of the attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords as well as SB 1070) or the rhetoric used against Muslims and those who are even slightly politically moderate.

To end, we have no right to draw on the thought Martin Luther King, Jr. if we are unwilling to wrestle with all of King’s intellectual thought. Refusal to do so is political appropriation that is at best expedient and at worst charlatanism.